The intent behind the European Union Court of Justice verdict, to allow people to remove awkward, embarrassing and inconvenient personal information from search-engines, may not quite be to create sanitised online societies. But the May 13, 2014, ruling could more or less push citizens in the bloc of 28 states of the European Union, and possibly other countries around the world in the future, in that rather odd direction where, in the guise of protecting personal data, people end up hiding aspects of their own history. The court held that individuals have a right to influence what information others may gather about them on the Internet. Individuals have to show that the information sought to be removed is no longer relevant for the purpose for which it was originally processed. Against such a broad criterion, imagine a flood of petitions to have data deleted from search results, and on all sorts of grounds. Allowing people to exercise control over data that get into the public domain may sometimes work against transparency. This aspect cannot be wished away lightly, considering the number of repeat offenders that so often slip through the net, causing grievous harm to the public. Attempts to rewrite societies’ collective history have been viewed with some suspicion in recent years. Concealing one’s personal history also may not always be all that innocent. It is in any case not the most effective means to ensure that one’s past is not held against him. Coming clean stands a better chance of winning the trust and confidence of others.
The ruling of the Luxembourg court puts a question mark on the premium currently attached to the principle of free flow of information. Potential employers and headhunters would want to know more, rather than less, about the antecedents of prospective recruits before they finalise contracts. This need may be felt more acutely today when hiring from abroad has become a common practice. Firms would also prefer not to have to invest much effort or time to access such information. To be sure, personal data that are dropped from Google links would still be available archivally and in records held by governments. The bona fides of persons can always be verified directly via individual sites, or through overseas contacts. Hence, the inference that the fallout from the verdict would work to the detriment of the public interest may not be entirely justified. The ruling comes against the backdrop of reform of the 1995 EU personal data protection law that has been approved overwhelmingly by Parliament, wherein the right to forget forms an element. The right to be forgotten ought not to be allowed to be abused as a right to be shielded.